5 Steps to Start a Successful Digital Transformation

July 24, 2023
To mitigate digital transformation issues, focus on clear goal identification, strategic definition and execution of small iterative projects that deliver tangible value.

While the promise of digital transformation is great, many struggle with where to start. While it's very tempting to dive in and execute a project, taking time to identify your goals and define a strategy is paramount to starting a scalable digital transformation journey. Following are the five key steps we’ve found to be critical to initiating a successful digital transformation.

1. Identify Problems and Current State. Conduct sessions with every function within your organization, including operations, engineering, quality, finance, HR and sales to identify challenges and assess the current state. Be sure to include frontline employees from each group and uncover recurring issues they face. Throughout these sessions, diligently document the systems they use for their daily tasks, whether it involves software applications or traditional paper-based processes.

2. Define a Digital Transformation Strategy. Work with your leadership team to establish the purpose of digital transformation within your organization. Data is an extremely valuable byproduct of any manufacturing organization—it can be used to generate actionable information and empower leaders with the information to make well-informed decisions. Armed with this information, it should be easy for a leadership team to establish a solid digital transformation strategy.

3. Define Your Minimum Technical Requirements and Architecture. Rather than choosing a vendor or software platforms, identify technologies that will enable digital transformation at scale such as:

  • Open architecture: Interoperability is essential for effective communication and data exchange between diverse systems, applications and devices. It should support standard data formats, protocols and interfaces, enabling seamless data integration, leveraging existing infrastructure and facilitating efficient collaboration with partners and suppliers.
  • Edge Driven: Data should be modeled with context as close to the source as possible, thereby removing the need to do this repeatedly where it is consumed.
  • Report by Exception: Changes are published to the architecture, not polled.
  • Lightweight: The protocols used should be lightweight and scalable to an enterprise solution.

Using the minimum technical requirements, define a system architecture that will support your initial projects and scale to support your entire enterprise. Complimentary architectures such as the Unified Namespace and Unified Analytics Framework are great places to start.

4. Specify and Execute a Proof of Concept. The primary goal should be to deliver value within a concise timeframe of one to three months. Choose a project with readily available data and integrate it into your architecture. Example projects include:

  • Increase quality or effectiveness by transforming data and giving stakeholders real-time access to actionable SPC (statistical process control) or OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) information.
  • Increase the productivity of your workforce by reducing redundant data entry or automating business transactions such as work orders and raw material confirmations.
  • Improve your supply chain resiliency by providing your vendors with access to real-time raw material quantities and demand.

5. Learn, Refactor and Iterate. After completing the four steps above, conduct a retrospective to recognize achievements and identify areas for improvement. Prior to transitioning to the next project, refactor your proof of concept based on the lessons learned, ensuring no technical debt is carried forward. Embrace an agile philosophy and execute the subsequent project by adhering to the same iterative process.

By delivering concrete results with these steps, you can demonstrate the benefits and gain recognition from executives, enabling them to establish a definitive vision for the company and allocate the necessary resources to support your ongoing digital transformation journey.

Pete Larochelle is vice president of sales and marketing at NeoMatrix Inc., an integrator member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about NeoMatrix Inc., visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange. Pete is also a member of the Industry 4.0 Community led by 4.0 Solutions.

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